Colm O'Rourke: The organisers of Gooch's testimonial should change tack before his reputation is damaged
The spotlight has been shining brightly on Colm Cooper's testimonial dinner, and the general reaction has been quite negative. The dissenting voices included my colleague Joe Brolly, who articulated his misgivings in print and on radio.
There are some in Kerry and further afield who think Joe was never too kind to the Gooch anyway and was less than gracious on the occasion of his retirement. At the time, Joe highlighted some of the games when Gooch did not play well more than the ones when he did.
It was not an approach I agreed with at the time and I told Joe so, as there is no great player who would survive a surgical analysis of every big match they played in. All would have had games they were not happy with - while I was never in the class of Gooch, or laden down with the same honours, there were several Leinster finals and many club championship finals when I was very disappointed with my performance. Something that I did not need anyone else to remind me of.
In the case of the testimonial dinner, Joe cannot be accused of throwing bricks from afar. On the night of the All-Ireland final, Joe told Gooch in my presence that he was not happy with his testimonial event. Many more of us had serious reservations but were too cowardly to express them publicly at the time. Joe certainly was not.
To me, this whole thing has become like a runaway train. In the beginning, it must have seemed a very nice thing to Colm Cooper and his family that there was going to be some type of public event that would mark his retirement from the county scene. He was approached by others about this and it was not at his instigation. Very quickly, it became a monster and now there is serious dough involved.
The GAA at central level have no control over Colm Cooper, private citizen, anyway. The popularity of the Gooch is such that few will question the event, and there is also the realisation that this is not a man to whom you would attach the term the term 'mercenary'. There are plenty of others who could take custody of that title.
The full import of this dinner should be becoming apparent to everyone in the GAA - and to Gooch himself. How many other great Kerry players are entitled to a testimonial dinner now that Colm is dipping his toe in the corporate pond? In the recent past, the three Ó Sé brothers, Seamus Moynihan and Maurice Fitzgerald spring to mind. What about the Brogans in Dublin, or Stephen Cluxton, or a star player in a weaker county? Should the money go into the individual's pocket, or is his club or county entitled to anything? A lot of skeletons are tumbling out of the cupboard on this one.
The organisers of this event could do themselves and Cooper a big favour by changing tack before it is too late and it causes damage to the reputation of a highly respected player. There should be a re-evaluation of the whole event and where the proceeds go. It is certainly not too late for that, and the sponsors of this night should ensure that short-term gain is not at the expense of reputational damage.
There is a much better way of rewarding players who have made significant contributions to their clubs and counties.
Some time ago, Charlie McCreevy, as Minister for Finance, introduced a scheme where professional sports people could reclaim tax after they had finished their careers. It is obviously not something that GAA players could avail of, but there should be some type of scheme where players who play a minimum number of games for their counties are entitled to a tax rebate after they hang up their boots. It should be based on league matches so players from all counties could then be included.
If, for example, a county player who played 50 or 60 league games was entitled to a tax rebate, it would reward everyone equally from all counties. The legislation would not apply to players in the Six Counties, of course, but I'm sure that could be overcome. The amounts involved for the Revenue would be a pittance each year. Are professional sports people more entitled to tax back than those who give great enjoyment in promoting our national games?
It is not surprising that the idea of a testimonial dinner or some other reward for individuals is taking root as this is the deliberate path that the GAA has embarked on recently. It is all about elitism - the GPA, the Sky deal and the Super 8. It is the path of self-destruction.
Every organisation needs a philosophy and ethos which everyone clearly understands and can buy into. What ordinary member understands the philosophy behind selling our amateur games, which belong to everyone, to a multi-billion-euro conglomerate who could not care less what the GAA stands for? And for the 40 pieces of silver, the young, the old and the poor cannot see games like the All-Ireland quarter-finals, which are exclusively on Sky.
How many ordinary club members can understand how such huge quantities of money are handed to the GPA every year? This is nothing to do with how valued or otherwise county players are. It is more to do with decisions on how limited resources are used. Is elitism the only game in town now? Can county players not be looked after very well without a vast bureaucracy having to spring up around them? A professional players' union for the elite amateur players is a total contradiction and makes all of the club players look like unnecessary padding.
Then the Super 8 is coming. To a town near you too. More games for Dublin and Kerry . . . round up the other usual suspects. The strong panels will dominate. If one did not know better, it could be assumed that this is a Dublin Trojan horse which has been parked for their long-term domination.
It will be hard to feel sorry for the weaker counties, though, when they start squealing about this in a couple of years. They voted for it. Anyway, they will probably be thrown a bone in the shape of some added revenue. It will keep the natives from becoming too restless.
When it comes to the GAA, I am a socialist. It is a source of entertainment for my friends. Yet that is exactly what the GAA should be about, and the most ardent capitalists should be able to recognise and agree with that. People can make fortunes from business, but the GAA is an entirely different concept. It was not set up for elitism or individual gain. It is about things like giving, sharing, helping, building. All based on unselfishness.
Of course there needs to be money to drive this, but it is not about profits or dividends or individual gain. The direction the GAA is going at the top now means that many players feel they are entitled to jump on the gravy train.
This is the GAA of the future. Count me out as an admirer.
Sunday Indo Sport